Home

 

People From the Other World by Henry S. Olcott

 

CHAPTER XII - IS IT AN OCCULT FORCE?

HAVING tried to make it appear reasonably certain that the forms seen on the platform in the circle-room are not character--personations by William H. Eddy, I am prepared to consider the only remaining alternative-that they imply the manifestation of some occult force, either spontaneously generated or under the control of intelligence. Here we have plain sailing, for, as students of science, we ought to find no difficulty in grappling with a subject which submits itself to analysis as freely as any other within the reach of our faculties. I see no more reason why we should not be able to trace the phenomena of modern Spiritualism back to their source, than those of heat, light, motion, electricity or chemical action, if we only use the same patience and resort to like tests.

We should take nothing for granted, and respect no man's judgment who does. We should demand from the Spiritualists as broad a basis of facts for our belief as we do from Huxley before receiving his theory, or from Tyndall if he would have us accept any of the dogmas

 169


propounded in his Belfast address. A philosophy that shrinks from crucial tests I want none of. No real investigator takes things on faith. We should flout at and cease debate with the Spiritualist who assumes to set his creed above all other creeds as too sacred to be tried and tested by every appliance of reason and science. The individual preferences or fears of mediums are nothing to its, for we are in quest of the truth, and would seek it even at the bottom of a well. We should weigh the mediums and their phenomena in the balances, and reject whatsoever appears false. In this spirit, which is the very essence of all scientific inquiry) I have tried, as far as lay within my power, to grope my way among these Eddy apparitions, and think the ground grows firm beneath my feet. I know that I am only the guide carrying the torch, and that the master spirits are to come after me ; but at least I have traversed the country and tried to observe the path so carefully as not to lead my betters into the bog at either side.

Now, that a fair understanding may be established between my reader and myself before I state any more things that I have seen, let us consider this question of the materialized spirits being the product of an undiscovered force. The dogma of Tyndall has not yet been demonstrated, either by him or any other man of science.

The word "demonstrate" is used advisedly; for, while it is true that the very recent experiments of Dr. Bastian, F. R. S., in England, and of Dr. Timothy Lewis, in India, seem to indicate that the thermal death-point of living matter has been finally ascertained, and that the flask experiments of the former gentleman, based

170


upon this hypothesis, make it probable that the spontaneous generation of Bacteria germs has been observed, yet the majority of scientists agree with Dr. Jeffreys-Wyman in the opinion that the question is still in doubt,

Unless, therefore, we are ready to concede that Bastian has settled the point in dispute, we may safely say that all the efforts of the most learned philosophers of France and Great Britain, have hitherto failed to show spontaneous generation, under conditions which absolutely excluded the admission of germs from the atmosphere. The experiments already made, may ultimately lead to this result, but they have not as yet; and even if tile indestructibility and convertibility of force were proven, the experimenters would still have to account for that something behind, that "dynamic, unseen agency," of which it is only the exponent, and which evolves and directs the force towards its multiform manifestations.

Alas! when they have wrested from space the secret laws under which matter accretes and forms itself into systems and worlds, and by which the myriad types of vegetable and animal life are evolved, the mind will return weary from its search after the Infinite Power that established those laws and holds them to their appointed work.

Well, then, if the English and French chemists, with unlimited control of the best apparatus, and every other help, have not evolved so much as microscopic animal life, independent of germs admitted from the atmosphere, is any one so audacious as to say, that these Vermont farmers, without a penny's worth of mechanical or chemical appliances, have gained such mastery over the

171


imponderable fluids of the air, that at their pleasure, palpable human forms can be evoked, to cheat the senses into the belief that they are endowed with life? Can any one dare to maintain that to such evanescent, self-generated forms, these conjurors can impart the faculties of hearing, speech, and sight? Can make them walk like human beings, breathe, sing, convey ideas, and sustain conversations in divers foreign tongues ? To walk may be automatic, as Doctor Carpenter attempted to show, in his pamphlet on the unconscious action of the human brain, and, if the spontaneous generation of the Eddy ghosts were conceded, it might be as easy to allow them the capability of mere motion; but to walk to a given point, by request, or to do any other suggested thing, is not automatic, but the evidence of motion guided by intelligence.

When, therefore, these apparitions have, at my demand, moved to the right or left, or stepped forward, or taken hold of some object, or assumed certain attitudes, or otherwise shown that they were capable of not only hearing my voice, consenting to my request, and doing the desired thing, but also were as able to control their individual movements, by the power of their individual will, as I myself, I saw that all theories of automatous action must be abandoned, and the problem re-cast. In such case I have to deal with sentient beings, and it crowds me nearer and nearer to the verge, where I must either surrender or leap.

If we have not to deal with a question of spontaneous generation, are these apparitions the result of some occult

172


force, Set in motion by any human will ? In other words, his the 11 medium," William H. Eddy, such power over it, that he can cheat mothers into the belief that they see their children, children their parents, brothers sisters, friends friends? And are the apparitions subjective or objective ? Let us see. If he "psychologizes" any particular one of his audience, he does all, for all see the same forms, hear them speak the same words, and witness them doing the same actions. If they are not phantoms of the mind, but temporarily solid and substantial shapes, created by the medium's will, out of the invisible molecules floating in the air, what does that imply ? Simply that William can not only read our thoughts, but see the pictures of our deceased friends, as they are impressed on our memory, and conjure up shapes that duplicate them in dress, appearance, manners, and conversation : that this uneducated man can at will speak any language he chooses, recall family names, observe secret actions so as to refer to them, and without time for preparation, delude visitors arrived just before the hour of assembly with the spectres of those nearest and dearest to them.

Is not this absurd ? To believe such nonsense is far more difficult than to yield at discretion, and acknowledge that perhaps the spirit world may be a fact after all. What hard climbing this is to reach the peak, from which the Mind's eye may take in the whole plain of Truth at a glance! If we could only swallow the spiritualistic pill at a gulp, how much trouble we might be spared. For their explanation is so easy; every single phase of these phenomena is so transparently simple, so in accordance with law-- an occult and as yet undiscovered law, it is true, but still

173


law and not chance--that one " finds peace in believing."

A clergyman asks me if the world would not demand that the Spiritualists should show something of practical benefit brought about by the spirits-something that would add to the world's wealth. I referred him to the position he took every Sunday of his life, when he asked: " If a man gain the whole world and lose his own soul, what profiteth him ? " and put it to him as a clergyman, if the proving of immortal existence were not the most priceless blessing that could be conferred upon the world by these modern wonder-workers. He had not regarded the matter from that side.

I am glad to receive a reinforcement of my appeal for scientific investigation of these so-called spiritual phenomena from a most unexpected quarter. Long after this chapter, as originally written, appeared in the Daily Graphic, the Scientific American, a conservative journal, uses the following language:

"In the first place, then, we can find no words wherewith to adequately express our sense of the magnitude of its importance to Science, if it be true. Such words as profound, vast, stupendous, would need to be strengthened a thousand-fold to be fitted for such a use. If true, it will become the one grand event of the world's history ; it will give an imperishable lustre of glory to the Nineteenth Century. Its discoverer will have no rival in renown, and his name will be written high above any other. For spiritualism involves a stultification of what are considered the most certain and fundamental conclusions of Science. It denies the conservation of matter and force ; it demands a reconstruction of our chemistry and physics, and even our mathematics. It professes to create matter and force out of nothing, and to annihilate them when created. If the pretensions of spiritualism have a rational foundation, no more important work has been offered to men of Science than their verification. A realization of the dreams of the elixir vita the philosopher's

174


stone, and the perpetual motion, is of less importance to mankind than the verification of spiritualism.

But some may say that we exaggerate the pretensions of spiritualist, and that spiritualists, in the ratio of their intelligence, make claims which are modest and moderate ; and perhaps the average man says that, although a great part of spiritualism is deception and imposture, yet there is something about it which is new and true. To such we say that if there is any truth in it, of interest to science, however small, it is worth while to seek for it with great diligence and labor ; its discovery will surely bring an abundant reward. if we positively knew that there was contained in spiritualism a scintilla of new fact about matter, though it were as the needle in all the hay stacks, or as the grain in all the sands of the sea, we would not discourage the ambitious man of science in his search for it.

Mr. Crookes, as the discoverer of thallium, has achieved a great eminence in science, and he is now nobly employing his talent in the investigation of spiritualism, if he find in it, positively, something new to science. He does not need to be told that, if he really discovers his psychic force, or any other unknown force, capable of acting on matter, all the future ages will name him with Galvani and Newton. Finally, say we emphatically, if there be truth in spiritualism, in whole or in any part, let it be investigated. But concerning such investigations, in view of very serious harm which heretofore has often been caused by shallow and superficial dallyings with the subject, we thoughtfully and solemnly advise that no investigation is worthy of the name unless it is inspired by the passionless common sense of science. Also, remember this: The evidence required to establish a fact, is proportioned to the improbability of the fact."

In the farther discussion of his theme, the Editor commends to the consideration of Mr. Crookes and myself, respectively, resort to force to solve the materialization problem; but I agree with that eminent Englishman, that it is better to avoid resort to such unscientific methods as long as possible.

So here we are at length: Confederacy, disproven; personation, discredited ; spontaneous generation of the apparitions,impossible; mind-reading by the medium, followed by his creation of the shades of our

175


deceased friends, absurd. Result: A possibility that, by some occult control -over now unknown forces of nature, beings, other than those in the body can manifest their presence to sight, touch, and hearing. If beings, what beings? Those they purport to be, or the simulacra of such, formed and fashioned by tricky creatures, who are suffered to trifle with the sacredest feelings of our hearts? If spirits, those of persons who have lived on this earth ? -or those from other planets, where the same relations as ours of body and mind, the same laws of life and death, do not prevail ? Who and whence are they? Are they all evil, all good, or partly both? Is there a limit to their power to interfere in the affairs of men; and, especially, to control those sensitives we call mediums? Do the things they do and the things they teach, indicate that the law of evolution follows us beyond the grave, and we may rise to grand heights of light and wisdom? --or must we shun them as the angels of hell itself, let loose to ruin us in body and soul? That is the issue. That is where we stand; and now the reader is prepared to let me take him by the hand through this maze, and with me, "try the spirits, if they be of God."

The illustration represents what happened on the first evening of my visit, after William's materialization seance closed. It shows some of the visible manifestations at Horatio G. Eddy's light-circles. Thousands who have attended the public exhibitions of the Davenports and other traveling mediums, will recognize them as familiar. I was chosen as one of the committee, on the evening when the Davenports first appeared in the

176  177-178 drawing


Cooper Institute, several years ago, and saw five hands simultaneously thrust out of the aperture in the cabinet door, and, grasping one, had my hand squeezed so that I felt the bruise for hours. Instead of using a wooden box, Horatio Eddy hangs two shawls upon the line that stretches from the chimney in the circle- room to the south wall; leaving, an open space between it and the ceiling of about two feet.

The one next the chimney, and behind Horatio's chair, is a short one, and does not reach the floor by nearly three feet ; and therefore, if it were possible for him to execute tricks behind the other curtain, without betraying himself by movements of his head, feet, shoulders and body, or the disturbance of the shawl, he would be favorably placed to do so. I have watched him closely, and have never detected any such indications of fraud. Besides, it will appear in the course of my narrative that, even if he had had both hands free to do what he chose, he could not have done any one of several things that I will recount.

The shawls merely form a screen, behind which it must be almost as light as in front, by reason of the open space between the cord and ceiling. A table is pushed into the corner, and on it are laid the following: One guitar, one concertina, seven bells of various sizes, two tambourines, eight harmonicons (mostly disabled), one flute, one piccolo, one flageolet, one tin ditto, and one triangle. Horatio sits on a chair in front of the curtain, to the left, next to him some gentleman selected from the audience, and at the right of the latter a lady similarly chosen. I give these positions as they

179


are upon the platform. To the audience they would appear reversed, Horatio being at the right and the lady at the left. William Eddy then pins across tile breasts of the two males a third shawl, attaching the ends to tile curtain. A bright light is thrown upon the group from a kerosene lamp placed near and turned up high.

Presently there is a commotion among the articles on the table, and loud knocks resound. The bells ring, various instruments are displayed above the curtain; the guitar is played upon near the ceiling, beneath the sitters' chairs, between the chimney side and Horatio's chair to the left, flat against the south wall, beyond the lady sitter to the right, and elsewhere; a familiar air is played in concert by a number of instruments; bells are rung singly and in harmony together, and hands of various sizes and tints dart into sight through the aperture in the curtain, or show themselves above the cord.

On the occasion referred to, the gentleman sitting next to Horatio was requested, after a while, to give place to a lady, who, when she had taken her seat and the shawl was readjusted, was caressed by a child's hand, a tiny little thing, that might have belonged to a girl of two or three years. It patted her cheek, was held at the lips to be kissed, laid upon her head, smoothed her hair, and when her eyes filled with tears, wiped them away and renewed its caresses. The artist has shown me, standing far in advance of the rest of the circle, where it will be noticed I had unobstructed view of all that transpired; but when this little hand was thrust from another world to cheer and encourage

180


the mother, whose bosom it had so often clasped in life, I had drawn close up in front, and saw the very dimples on it. I am therefore, entirely able and ready to affirm that, even if the medium were an impostor, and had wished to deceive his sitters with a clever juggle, he did not then nor could not, for he could not transform his long, brown bony, sinewy hand, and his wrist, mutilated by the cruel tying of many "committees," into the size, color, and shape of the baby hand that was materialized before my eyes.

Let the reader judge. Here we have front and back views of Horatio's right hand, and a view of the baby hand that I have referred to. The peculiar mutilation of his wrist by the compression of the small bones of the wrist by ligatures when they were soft, will be observed, as well as the long, slim, almost claw-like

181


fingers. Observe also, by reference to the large picture, that, as Horatio sits at the extreme left of the three, he could only use his right hand for juggling, whereas the child-hand is a left one.

It has been doubted, by certain persons who have written to the newspapers, that more than one hand is shown at once in these light circles, but aside from my own observations, which prove the contrary, here we have the certificate of a clergyman of Albany:

CHITTENDEN, Oct. 29th,1874. This is to certify that at a light circle which I attended last evening at the Eddy homestead I distinctly saw three spirit-hands displayed at one time; of which, one was that of a lady, a long, slim hand as white as marble ; a second, the great hand of a man with the entire little finger of the right hand missing ; the third, another man's hand, very white.

HENRY J. CLINKER. 28 Hawk St., Albany, N. Y. A call was soon made for writing materials, and a succession of spirit-bands clutching the pen that William offered them, and using my note-book as a tablet, wrote names on cards and threw them towards the audience. Some were names of the dead, some of the living; none, I am satisfied, familiar to the medium.

The performances of the evening concluded, at the request of a visitor, with a series of imitations of the boring, sawing, and splitting of wood, the filing of iron, and the pumping of water, the sounds occurring behind the curtain, and all being so true to nature as to evoke great applause.

During the entire sitting, as during each of like character, Horatio's two hands are supposed to have clasped the bared left arm of the person next him; his eyes were closed, and, as I said before, there was neither

182


rustle Of the curtain, nor movement of his feet, body, or shoulders. For all the attention he apparently gave to what was going on he might have been in a stupor, or enjoying a nap after a full meal.

Now, this experience offers, perhaps, as favorable an opportunity as any for the application of the theory, that no reliance should be placed upon the evidence of the senses. I either saw the baby-hand, and other larger ones, not the medium's, heard the coincidental playing upon several instruments, and saw the guitar played upon, not only beyond the reach of Horatio's arm, but also flat against the south wall, in a position where he could not possibly hold, much less play upon it; or I did not.

If not, who psychologized my senses, and made me fancy all these things? Not Horatio, for stronger wills than his have vainly attempted to "magnetize" me, and he could not do it, if he tried ever so long. Who then? Nobody else in the flesh, for no one else had the slightest interest in the success of his circle; William and he never interfering with each other. Shall we say, then, some self- directed, vagrant force, allying itself with this medium ? Or, as a last extremity, shall we say a spirit or spirits out of the body, and " let it go at that ?"

183

CHAPTER XIII - THE RESPONSIBILITY OF SCIENTISTS